Staying connected to the internet can be a bit of a challenge when you travel in an RV. It has become a lot easier with better cell phone connectivity, but our need for data seems to grow exponentially, whereas as our budget to pay for expensive data plans doesn't! Connecting to your RV park's Wi-Fi is a good way to help reduce the data load on your cell phone / MiFi card plan, but connecting to that signal can be a real issue. If you get connection drop outs, "cannot connect," "connection timeout," or password issues, then a poor signal strength is most likely the culprit. If that is the case, then boosting that Wi-Fi signal with a Wi-Fi booster is a good solution. However, it is not magic. Keep in mind, the RV park is still responsible for appropriating the correct amount of bandwidth to the users. If the RV park has enough bandwidth for 50 RVs and there are 100 RVs in the park, then that will be a problem no matter what you do. It is a two-way street and utilizing a Wi-Fi booster makes sure you are doing your part. A booster is very useful, and this guide is meant to give you an introduction to how boosting works and choosing the right booster.
Wi-Fi is basically like a two-way radio. Instead of speaking English, your computer speaks a language called 802.11. The radio waves use a frequency band called the 2.4GHz ISM band which is also used by microwave ovens and some cordless telephones. This means that Wi-Fi can sometimes suffer interference from these devices. Also, there are some other frequency variations, but you get the point. It’s important to remember two things about Wi-Fi. First, it is mostly line-of-sight. Radio waves of this frequency do not pass very well through objects, especially metal and objects with a high-water content (this is how a microwave works - water absorbs radio frequencies of this energy and in doing so, heats up). For that reason, fog, rain, wet leaves and our own bodies can also impede the Wi-Fi signal. Secondly, remember that I said that Wi-Fi is two-way. You have to be able to “hear” the signal, but they also have to be able to “hear” you.
This is the root cause of many of the challenges in trying to connect to a RV park’s Wi-Fi. The power output of a typical laptop Wi-Fi is about 0.2W and that from your smartphone or tablet is typically much less. They are designed to communicate to a home or office router that is at the most 15-20 feet away, not 100-200 yards away or further. And remember the square law: the strength of a signal reduces as a square of the distance, meaning that if you double the distance from the source, the signal strength reduces by 4x. So what typically happens is that your laptop can “hear” the Wi-Fi signal (because most parks have large more powerful antennas), but your little old laptop can’t send its signal back which is why you can’t connect or have connection timeout failures.
So enough of the tech talk. Bottom line is that, in order to reliably connect to most campgrounds Wi-Fi, we need some help. Let’s take a look at the various options.
Getting a BetterSignal
Based on the previous section and your new-found technical prowess, it’s fairly obvious that there are only three ways to get a better signal. Right?
- Move closer to the source (not alwayspractical)
- Reduce any interference (get outside, get high and reduce anyobstructions, better line of site)
- Increase your signalstrength
Let’s take a look at each of these inturn.
Closer to theSource
If you’re lucky, you can request to be parked close to the Wi-Fi antenna. However, this doesn’t always work because antennas put out the signal in a three-dimensional lobe shape (the exact shape varies depending upon the antenna design). This means that it’s hard to predict where you will get the best signal - you can actually get too close. You’ve probably noticed this when driving on the freeway with no cell phone signal and you’re like, “What the heck? I can literally see the cell phone tower right there!” That’s my point.
Most RVers don’t use cordless phones so that’s not normally a problem. Moving your laptop closer to a window facing the RV park antenna can help, or better still, going outside (more practical with a tablet or smartphone). You may have noticed this before while RVing; small changes to your location can make a big difference. You can experiment with this at your next RVing location.
Increasing the SignalStrength
This is where we can get all techy and gadgety. There are two parts to increasing the signal strength. One is to use a bigger antenna. What an antenna does is listen for the Wi-Fi signal and send out your Wi-Fi signal, just like the dish on your satellite receiver. If you increase your signal strength, then you can hear signals that would otherwise not be possible to hear. Generally, the “bigger” the antenna we can use, the better the signal (like every rule there are always exceptions, but this will do for now).
The second way is to increase the output power. A typical radio station might transmit with 10-20,000W of power (compare that to your little old laptop’s 0.02W). Luckily for us though, there are devices that you can buy called Wi-Fi Boosters that combine a more powerful Wi-Fi transmitter (the “booster”) and a better antenna (to improve the receive side). So a compete WiFi booster should include a transmitter and a antenna, this completes the two way communication necessary for great WiFi.
Connecting to MultipleDevices: The TechnoRV WiFi Repeater
The Wi-Fi boosters that we’re going to talk about connect to your laptop via USB, which also gives them the power they need (no separate AC adapters). However, you need to tell your computer to use the booster and not its own Wi-Fi adapter. That is accomplished using a piece of software called a driver. Some Windows 8/10 computers come with the driver already installed. Others you have to load it from a CD or via theinternet.
However, there are some problems with this. What if your device doesn’t have a USB port (e.g. like a smartphone, tablet, Kindle or Roku)? Secondly, what if you want to connect multiple devices such as two laptops or a laptop and a smartphone to the booster? Thirdly, the driver doesn’t run on all laptops (it doesn’t support Mac computers).
The solution to all of these issues is a piece of gear called a USB Repeater. It’s one of my favorite gadgets. Instead of plugging the booster into your laptop, you plug the booster into the Wi-Fi Repeater. The repeater then sets up its own hotspot or Wi-Fi signal which all your devices connect to wirelessly. There’s no need to load any software, and any device that can connect to Wi-Fi can connect to the repeater. You can even connect your wireless printer to the repeater so that all your devices are print-enabled. When you first arrive at an RV park, you have to “tell” the repeater which Wi-Fi to “tune” in to. To do that you configure it by visiting its own webpage. Once done, it will boost the signal that you told it and share it with all the devices connected to it. You can even give your own hotspot a name and protect it with a password to stop those other pesky RVers from jumping on your boosted signal! In addition, the Repeater gives you another level of security as it is completely encrypted.
If you buy the Wi-Fi boosting equipment from TechnoRV, it comes with our very detailed Learning Series which talks you through configuring and using your booster and repeater. TechnoRV will make sure you are successful with setting this system up.
Okay, so here’s the run down on the Wi-Fi solutions that we’ve put together (you can also watch this video). There are many Wi-Fi boosters out there and we’ve tested most of them. These are the ones that we’ve found work best and are mostreliable while still being affordable. The more expensive WiFi boosters usually incorporate a lot of networking capabilities that 99.9% of RVers will never use. These WiFi boosters give you exactly what you need to get a stronger signal to the Parks WiFi.
Desktop Wi-Fi Booster
Our Desktop Booster combines a 2 watt Wi-Fi booster with a 6” antenna with 5 dB gain (antenna measure their gain in a logarithmic scale called decibels or dBs - 3 dBs represents a doubling of the signal strength). This means that in theory, this booster is 12.5x more powerful than your laptop in terms of power output and at least 2x as powerful due to the antenna (useful on the receive side) giving around a 15x performance gain. It is like replacing a Prius with a Porsche.
The booster can either sit on your desk or ideally suction on to the window facing the campground's Wi-Fiantenna (suction cup mount included).
Eventhoughitisinside,itcanpullinasignaluptohalf amile away provided the antenna at the other end is powerful enough to “talk - back.” The big advantage of this solution is that you don't need to run a cable outside. The disadvantage is that because it is inside, there is a signal loss and your signal is more likely to be obstructed. Having said that, it's probably the best solution in terms of“bang-for-the-buck.” We personally use this unit. To buy this solution, and allow multiple users to connect to the boosted signal, you need the Desktop Wi-Fi Booster and the USB Wi-Fi Repeater. TechnoRV sells a Desktop Booster Kit that includes everything you need for multiple users to connect to the boosted signal.
External Wi-Fi Booster Tube
This External Wi-Fi Booster Tube has 1 watt power output, but it has a long antenna meaning that it has more gain (8 dB compared to 5 dB of the Desktop Booster i.e. 1.5x its signal strength). Since it is mounted outside and is higher, it generally performs better than the Desktop Booster. It comes with a long (16') USB cable and a couple of nylon ties for mounting. To mount, you can either use the rear ladder, or on the side of the bat wing TV antenna if you have one of the manual crank-up types. The best way to mount this antenna is to use the TechnoRV Suction Cup Antenna Mount. This high powered suction cup mount can affix to any smooth non-porous surface, such as the side of your RV or window. The challenge is getting the cable inside - you can either drill through the roof (Ouch!), pass it through a vent on the roof (e.g. the refrigerator vent) or pass it through an open window or slide. Again, if you use the TechnoRV Suction Cup Antenna Mount then it is easy to run inside of a slide or window because you can mount this right at the entry point. Once inside, the USB cable plugs either into your laptop or better still, into the USB Wi-Fi repeater, just like the Desktop Booster, so you can connect multiple users. TechnoRV has a kit called the WiFi Pro kit with Suction Cup Mount, and this includes the External Booster Tube, Repeater, 24 feet of USB cable, Suction Cup Mount, and an AC and DC power supply.
Super Long-Range Antenna
The Long-Range Yagi Antenna is like having a super-large dish on your satellite TV. It's really good at pulling in a weaker signal from say a campground's indoor Wi-Fi. We also recommend this for longer distances that you can get a good line of site to. This was the situation that Phil had at a campground in Webster which doesn't have outdoor Wi-Fi, but does have it in the recreation room. Using the Yagi, Phil was able to access this weak indoor signal. There is a video of Phil connecting to a parks WiFi using the Yagi on our YouTube channel.
The downside of the Yagi is that it works best if mounted outside which means that you need a way of getting the cable inside. Secondly, you always need to point it at the source Wi-Fi. The Yagi antenna is a directional antenna, not omni-directional. The Yagi antenna is a antenna only, and does not have a built in transmitter. For this reason we recommend using this with the TechnoRV Desktop Booster Kit. You simply unscrew the small antenna that comes with the Desktop Booster and screw on the Yagi Antenna. What we do is get to an RV park and connect with our Desktop Booster. If this is good enough, then we are happy. If we find that it needs some additional power, then we add the Yagi to the equation. The Yagi is a good piece of equipment to have in your toolbox. TechnoRV has a kit that includes the Desktop Booster, Repeater, and the Yagi Antenna. This is called the Desktop Booster kit with Long Range Yagi.
Hopefully this guide has given you a better idea about Wi-Fi in general, and in particular, what kind of solution makes most sense. Having free Wi-Fi available is a great alternative to cellular data. If you find yourself needing to boost cellular signal on your cell phone or MiFi jet pack, then TechnoRV also carries several WeBoost (formerly known as Wilson Electronics) CellBooster. The WeBoost 4G-X is the most powerful cell booster on the market right now and extends your signal range up to 60% farther than similar boosters.
These Wi-Fi and Cell Boosters are meant as tools which you can use when you need a little help. And let’s face it, we all need a little help from time to time when it comes to staying connected on the road.
If you have any more questions about the Wi-Fi boosters or cell boosters, feel free to email your questions to email@example.com. TechnoRV would be happy to assist you!